JEDDAH: A US district court ruling that a foreign bank based in Istanbul helped finance the Hamas terror group has heaped further pressure on Turkey over its tacit support for terrorism funding.
Ankara has remained silent on the verdict, but the court’s findings are likely to isolate Turkey further on the international stage and damage its relations with Israel.
Three US law firms, including Stein Mitchell, last year launched legal action against the Kuveyt Turk bank over alleged terror financing.
The firms were acting on behalf of the estate of husband and wife Eitam and Na’ama Henkin, who were murdered in their car in a West Bank terror attack in 2015. The couple’s four children were also in the vehicle, but survived.
Eitam Henkin was a US national and his wife a foreign national.
The attack was praised by Hamas as an act of “brave resistance” and “heroic.”
In its ruling, the US eastern district court of New York said that the Kuveyt Turk “knowingly maintained several bank accounts for a Hamas operative who was the terrorist organization’s primary Turkish fundraising entity.”
According to the court, the bank “fully understood the operative’s role in supporting Hamas’ illicit and violent activities.”
“We all know about Iran’s longstanding support for Hamas. But less understood is the fact that Turkey, a NATO ally, provides significant support to the terrorist group,” Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tweeted on Friday.
Plaintiffs in the case claimed that the bank aided and supported the murders by providing banking services to three customers, including a known Hamas operative, Jihad Yaghmour, and a Hamas-run institution, the Islamic University of Gaza.
However, the complaint also accused Turkey of acting as a “major political and financial supporter for Hamas,” with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly meeting senior Hamas leaders.
Turkey’s acceptance of 11 Palestinian prisoners released under a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas in 2011 was also included in the court ruling as a proof of close ties between Ankara and the terror organization.
The court also criticized Turkey for its failure to ban the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, known as the IHH, a prominent fundraiser for Hamas in the country.
The foundation has been operating as part of the Union of Good, a global fundraising network for the terror organization, since October 2000. The network gathers over 50 separate Islamic organizations, several of which are designated as global terror groups by the US Treasury Department.
IHH made headlines after the Mavi Marmara raid when volunteers from the group on board a Turkish-owned vessel attempted to bypass the Gaza blockade in May 2010. Israeli forces stormed the ship and killed 10 activists on board, including Turkish nationals and an American of Turkish origin.
The US court harshly criticized the IHH for supporting the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG), which served since the 1990s as the principal recruitment source for Hamas ranks, especially Al-Qassam Brigades.
According to the court ruling, from 2012-2015, Kuveyt Bank conducted criminal activities by maintaining several bank accounts for Yaghmour, IHH and IUG. These included Euro-dollar accounts used to transfer funds though bank accounts in the US.
On Thursday, The Times newspaper in the UK claimed that Hamas had set up a secret headquarters in Istanbul to carry out cyber strikes and counter-intelligence against Saudi and UAE embassies in the Middle East and Europe.
Based on Western intelligence sources, the unit is allegedly run by Hamas’ military leadership in Gaza and directed by Samakh Saraj, a senior Hamas member.
In August, the US criticized Turkey over Erdogan’s hosting of two Hamas leaders in Istanbul, the second time this year, saying that the officials were “specially designated global terrorists.” Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh was a guest of honor at the meeting.
“President Erdogan’s continued outreach to this terrorist organization only serves to isolate Turkey from the international community, harms the interests of the Palestinian people, and undercuts global efforts to prevent terrorist attacks launched from Gaza,” the US State Department said.
However, Turkey continues to court Hamas despite US objections amid claims that Ankara has granted passports and citizenship to dozens of militants in the past two years, including senior members of a Hamas terror cell.